Feb
01
2011
1

DIY Soups, Tips for Making Soup From Scratch

Greek yogurt adds additional flavor

Whether you just need a bowl of warm soup on a cold day, or the healing powers of chicken soup to fight that cold, nothing beats homemade. Sure it’s faster to open a can of soup but I challenge you to find any canned soup that can beat the taste of soup from scratch. And the best part is that soup can be the easiest menu item to make. Here are some tips to help your soup making.

Make your own stock.

One of the keys to good soup flavor is starting with its foundation, stock or broth. Now, I must be honest and admit that I often cheat and buy canned, low sodium chicken stock. But I also have to tell you that making your own stock is super easy and you can freeze it for future use. Whenever we make a whole chicken, we simply place the carcass into a large pot, cover the chicken with water and add celery, carrots, onions and perhaps a few herbs. Let it simmer for an hour or so and then strain and store in an air-tight container. It’s that easy. And I promise its just as easy for beef or fish stock too. The flavors from your own stock will make a big difference when used as your base of a soup. Especially any seafood stew.

Plan ahead when soaking beans.

The easiest soup recipes to make are the ones that either don’t call for soaking beans or you can substitute canned beans. I say easiest because you don’t have that extra time component for soaking beans. But that being said, bean soups are some of my favorite soups of all time. White bean soup with bacon reminds me of my Grandmother’s house. And that makes the planning worth it. Just be sure to budget in the time to soak beans overnight. Or sacrifice a little flavor and cheat and buy the canned kind, problem solved!

Don’t throw away the seeds!

Nature's mysterious shapes and beautiful colors

Another fun little soup trick I learned when making soups with winter squash is to save the seeds and use them as a tasty garnish. I like to top our butternut squash soup with toasted seeds just like you would add oyster crackers to chowder. They make all the difference in the world. Plus they give a toasty flavor and contrast the sweetness of a pumpkin or butternut squash soup. Just rinse them in cold water and dry them on a paper towel after scooping them out of the squash. Then toss them in a little olive oil and sea salt and roast them in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes or until just golden brown. Sprinkle them on your bowl of soup or enjoy them later as a healthy snack!

Plan ahead and make weeknight soup even easier!

Soup is one of the easiest recipes because you mostly just throw everything into one pot and let it simmer. It really is that simple. That’s not to say that there are not more complicated recipes out there, or that even the most simple soups don’t require adding things in a sequence. But it really is a simple recipe. The problem is that for some soups, especially those with a lot of veggies is that you spend so much time chopping and prepping. The actual cooking part is easier than the prep work.

To save on time or to be able to make a quick weeknight soup, I suggest chopping things like butternut squash, carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers etc ahead of time and freezing them in air tight containers in pre-measured quantities, i.e. a cup of chopped onion. That way you just have to thaw what you need that day, not a whole large chunk of frozen onions. And keep your pantry stocked with a couple of cans of chicken stock, dried herbs like thyme, basil and oregano and salt and pepper. I’m not a huge fan of buying the already chopped veggies though for two reasons. One: you pay more for them. Two: they don’t taste the same as fresh veggies you chop yourself. But that being said, they are a double time saver. The bottom line: save yourself time by chopping ahead of time.

Soup definitely falls into that category of “What would Julia Child do?”. Yes, that’s right she would make her own! So I challenge you to try a new soup recipe this winter. Ever tried butternut squash soup? Go for it! Read some tips from my previous post here or try out this easy recipe here: (more…)

Mar
19
2010
--

Irish Carbomb Cupcakes, An Extra Sweet St. Pat’s Day

Guiness and Bailey Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

Guiness and Bailey Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

Well friends I am thrilled to share with you that not only did I get the corned beef right this year, I also tried a new cupcake recipe that was so yummy I could not believe how easy it was. These cupcakes have Guinness in the cake batter, Bailey’s in the chocolate ganache center and Bailey’s and Kaulua in the frosting. YUM!! To save time you could omit the ganache, but who wants to miss out on that yummy chocolaty center, not me!

Here is the recipe from IrishCentral.com, with a couple of my tweaks. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Serving: 12 cupcakes

1/2 cup stout (Guinness)
1 stick, 8 tbsp., unsalted butter
1/4 plus 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 plus 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/3 plus 1/6 cup Greek Yogurt or sour cream

For the Baileys ganache filling:

4 oz. (60-70% cocoa) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. Baileys Irish cream

For the Baileys butter cream frosting:

1/2 stick, 4 tbsp., unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish cream
2 tbsp Kahlua Liquor

Preparation

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and Greek yogurt to blend.

Add the stout-butter mixture slowly and beat just to combine. (Allison’s Note: if the stout mixture is still warm you don’t want to cook the egg, so add it in a little at a time) Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache filling, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds). Add the butter and Baileys and stir until combined. (Allison’s Note: you can do this step as a double boiler, simply place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over top a small saucepan filled 1/3 full with water, add the cream and heat until chocolate is melted, then add butter and Baileys and stir; remove from heat). Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. (You can use the refrigerator to speed the cooling process, but be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooling.)

Meanwhile, cut out a portion from the center of the cupcake using the cone method (a small paring knife works best for this). Once the ganache has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe it into the cupcakes. (Allison’s Note: you can also dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache just before it cools completely and allow the ganache to harden on the top of the cupcake before piping the frosting)

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated. Mix in the Baileys and Kahlua until smooth. Add more if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

This recipe is from the wonderful food website Annie’s Eats/ IrishCentral.com
Mar
16
2010
1

Come On Get Healthy, Celebrating National Nutrition Month

Eating Fresh and Healthy Is Easier Than You May Think!

Eating Fresh and Healthy Is Easier Than You May Think!

Did you know it is National Nutrition Awareness Month? While we should make an effort to eat healthy all year round, it doesn’t hurt to place extra attention on eating right this month. In 1980 the American Dietetic Association coined March as National Nutrition Month® in response to the growing public interest in eating right. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. For more information, visit eatright.org/nnm. Eating healthy is not always easy when our lives get busy. That is why planning weekly menus and having access to a library of healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and inexpensive to stock are so key to eating right.

In celebration of eating right, we tried a new recipe this week that is so ridiculously easy and tasty for a weeknight side-dish, that its healthy benefits are an added bonus. Try this deconstructed version of guacamole the next time you are looking to work in some healthy vitamins and good fats.

Avocado, Cucumber and Tomato Salad

This is a great salad recipe, but also an alternative way to serve avocados instead of making guacamole. Not only is it easy, it is full of healthy nutrients and good fats.

Ingredients

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

2 hass avocados, sliced in half and then scored into 1inch squares

1 Japanese cucumber, un-peeled and sliced

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 tbsp Anaheim pepper, finely chopped

juice from ½ a fresh lemon, squeezed

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Toss all of the ingredients in a medium salad bowl. Serve immediately. (It’s that easy!)

Feb
15
2010
1

Making Valentines Day Extra Sweet, Baby Lava Cakes

hmmmm....dark chocolate lava cake!

hmmmm....dark chocolate lava cake!

Happy Belated Valentines Day to everyone! We enjoyed our day in sunny SoCal yesterday and found ourselves so thankful for our beautiful life together. My husband made the most delicious dinner of grilled lack of lamb on a bed of swiss chard with pomme frites and a beet salad with feta cheese and argula. It was so good that I do not have any photos, we enjoyed it too much!

Dessert was my domain yesterday. And we did pause for a brief moment to snap a quick photo (above). I debated what sort of healthy chocolate decadence to create. I settled on a recipe I found in my Better Homes and Gardens New Bridal Edition cookbook. The results were similar to a chocolate souffle but the recipe was much faster to make. And the best part is that you can make it up to step 4 and then just keep it chilled until 30 minutes before you intend to bake it, meaning that it is a great dinner party dessert with unbelievably rich and delicious, souffle-like  results.

Here is the recipe: (more…)

Dec
29
2009
2

Toasting To New Years At Home

candleFor many of us in the United States, New Year’s Eve parties conjure up memories of watching Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve bash on television, sipping champagne at midnight, and unfortunately crowded bars and restaurants with ridiculous cover charges. I have long loathed that last one. To me, New Year’s Eve has been more about spending time with close friends and family, and of course that special someone to kiss at midnight. It has been less about needing to attend large parties and spending ridiculous amounts of money just to be there. Do not get me wrong, those events can be fun sometimes, but many times I would much rather be in a smaller setting ringing in the new year with the ones I love and not hundreds of strangers.

I think that is why a lot of people decide to create their own party and host it at home. Not only is it a lot more affordable, it also can be a more intimate event. And it can still be just as chic and fun as the trendiest clubs, if you take the time to decorate. And do not be afraid to ask guests to contribute to the menu. Hosting it as a pot luck can actually be a lot less work for the host and make guests feel like part of the planning committee. And let’s be honest, not all of our friends want to cook for the party, so task those guests with bringing other key ingredients like beverages.

New Year’s Eve should (more…)

Dec
02
2009
2

Greek Festival Crescents, Hazelnut Cookies

Festival Crescents

Festival Crescents

Just in time for your holiday baking! This is a super easy recipe and can be served as a accompaniment to coffee in the morning or as a sweet anytime. These cookies are subtly sweet, so they are sure to please any crowd. Makes 12-15 cookies.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup hazelnuts or almonds, or a combination of both
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/8 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp brandy, or Metexa Greek brandy
  • ¼ cup cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour (Note: you can use whole wheat flour, but the end result will be a little “heavier” tasting)
  • Orange-flower water
  • Powdered sugar

Easy and festive

Easy and festive

Preparation

crescents_sugar250Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly butter. In a food processor, chop the nuts finely but without reducing them to ground nuts. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and brandy, then stir in the nuts. Sift the starch and flour over the mixture and stir. Add more flour if necessary in order to create a firm dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean working surface. You may wish to lightly flour your hands. Break off a small piece of dough and roll into a small ball, then place the ball on the clean surface and roll into a 3 inch log, tapering into pointed ends. Shape into a crescent and place on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the crescents are made. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the cookies are firm but not too brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Pour the orange-flower water into a small bowl. Place the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Dip the crescents into the water quickly and then into the sugar to coat them completely. Store them loosely in an airtight container.

Nov
05
2009
--

Some Like It Hot…Chili Recipes

Recently I started digging deeper into the history of chili. I wanted to use our new Dutch oven that we received as a wedding gift last year to make a rich soup for fall. Immediately I thought of chili. But then what recipe to make? As I began searching through my many cookbooks and online resources, I was surprised to learn of just how many variations there are of the dish. Hundreds!

cornbread_250Chili seems to have originated in the southwestern United States, specifically along the “Texas Trail” back in the days of cowboys and cattle drives across the western U.S. I say “seems” because no one really knows when the first bowl of chili was actually served. And although the recipe can vary, it usually consists of a few basic ingredients: meat (although there are now vegetarian versions as well), beans, peppers and spices with no ingredient dominating the mix, but rather creating a blend of flavors.

To get the full scoop on chili, I (more…)

Oct
19
2009
1

Adventures in Vegan Baking Part 2: Vegan and Halloween Inspired Pumpkin Coconut Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes Topped with Coconut Flakes and Peep Ghosts

Pumpkin Cupcakes Topped with Coconut Flakes and Peep Ghosts

When I first ventured into vegan baking earlier this year, it was completely by chance. I attended book signing at a local bookstore for the new cookbook Babycakes by famed vegan bakery owner, Erin McKenna. The event originally caught my attention because it was related to 2 of my passions, baking and cupcakes.

Babycakes NYC

Babycakes NYC

As I learned more about the cookbook and Erin’s bakery, I realized just how extraordinary they both were. Erin gave to many people, young and old alike, something that they could not have experienced before. A cupcake. Having grown up with food allergies, many kids like Erin were not able to eat products containing gluten. After many attempts in her New York apartment, Erin created a delicious version of a gluten free and vegan cupcake. And not only has she shared her cupcakes with the world from her unique New York bakery, she also recently released her first cookbook.

The exciting thing about gluten-free and vegan baking, is that it can also carry added health benefits for the rest of us without food allergies as well. I myself am fortunate to not have any food allergies, that I know of anyway. But I was completely intrigued and inspired by the idea of creating a healthier version of a cupcake. Not just to satisfy my own sweet tooth, but in case I ever needed to whip up a gluten-free or vegan treat for family or guests.

Never having been exposed to the world of vegan baking before I carried what I later realized was an unfair assumption about the stuff. That it doesn’t taste as good. Wow, was I wrong. Vegan baked goods can sometimes taste even better then the buttery, non-vegan versions. Especially if you enjoy coconut flavors, since coconut oil is an excellent ingredient for vegan baking both for its flavor and healthy fats.

Healthy Ingredients

Healthy Ingredients

What I did not realize about vegan baking, again never having been exposed to it before, was that it is a much more delicate art than the regular baking I had done in the past. The ingredients can be hard to find, and sometimes ridiculously expensive. The recipes can be frustrating to follow and leave you wondering if you are baking or trying to study the science and chemical equations of the process. But once you come to terms with all those things, the challenges of vegan baking are heavily outweighed by the benefits.

Erin’s book was my original inspiration and it has given me the confidence to strike out on my own and start varying some of my favorite recipes to make them more healthy. Since I am fortunate to lead a life without any allergies, I can still incorporate the occasional dairy into my recipes, but I have been able to cut out fats and/or replace them with healthier ones thanks to my new vegan education. I never knew baked goods without butter and eggs could taste so good, and be a healthier treat.

Decorating with Peeps and Candy Corn, easy and cute!

Decorating with Peeps and Candy Corn, easy and cute!

Click “more” to see the recipe and Vegan baking tips (more…)

Oct
09
2009
6

Healthy Coconut Pumpkin Muffins or Bread

Just a few chips on top gives just enough chocolate sweetness, without overwhelming the muffin

Just a few chips on top gives just enough chocolate sweetness, without overwhelming the muffin

Continuing on my vegan baking adventures, I recently discovered a great way to make pumpkin bread minus the butter. These vegan muffins (or bread, the recipe works for either) had great flavor and texture. The lack of butter didn’t diminish the quality at all, in fact the addition of coconut milk gave them a rich and sweet flavor. The coconut and walnuts compliment the pumpkin nicely. The only complaint I had after sampling them was that the pumpkin flavor was not as strong as I would have liked. But for some, that probably is a good thing, depending on your love for pumpkin. And when you add a few dark chocolate chips on top, it makes for an extra sweet treat.

Coconut Pumpkin Muffins

Makes approx. 2 dozen muffins, or 2 loaf pans 8″x4″

Ingredients

  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1 15oz can of organic pumpkin puree, unsweetened
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s light coconut milk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 cup vegan dark chocolate chips

Preparation

Sweet and Healthy Vegan Chocolate Chip Coconut Pumpkin Muffins

Sweet and Healthy Vegan Chocolate Chip Coconut Pumpkin Muffins

Grease and flour two 8″x4″ loaf pans or line 2 muffin pans with muffin liners. (or 1 loaf pan and 1 muffin pan) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the flour, wheat germ, agave, pumpkin, coconut oil, flaxseed meal, coconut milk, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well with a whisk until combined, being careful not to over mix and make the batter “tough”. Begin to fold in the coconut and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and/or scoop the batter into the muffin liners, filling them 2/3 full. Place a few dark chocolate chips on top of each muffin or along the top of the loaf pan mixtures. Bake the loaf pans for about 1 hour and the muffin pans for about 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and store wrapped in plastic wrap or an airtight container. The cooked product can also be frozen for 1-2 weeks.

Sep
28
2009
3

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Whenever I experiment with a new vegetable recipe, I always think back to dinner time as a child and being forced to eat asparagus or broccoli, and hating them. Now I love vegetables. I have learned that enjoying vegetables has a lot to do with freshness and how they are prepared. And let’s not forget variety. Trying new things can keep our taste buds interested.

Recently, my husband and I joined a local food co-operative. It is a small grocery store that offers fruits and veggies from local growers, and has an amazing variety of fresh offerings. As I strolled through the rows of vegetables, I stopped to look at the variety of squash available. I have eaten a lot of zucchini in my time; fried, sauteed, baked in muffins and cake, and so on. But I saw this unusually shaped, light orange colored squash and stopped to see what it was called. Butternut squash. I had heard the name many times before, but I had never attempted to try to cook with it. Ripe for adventure, I selected a 3 pound butternut squash and left the store ready to attempt a new recipe.

I decided that (more…)

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